UK: Armed officers from the British Transport Police to be deployed in early 2012

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In May this year, Phillip Hammond MP, the Secretary of State for Transport, announced that the British Transport Police (BTP) would be provided with an "armed capability." The justification for this is that "the security of the railways and London Underground will be further enhanced by the development of a BTP armed capability that will be deployed as appropriate in response to the terrorism threat level at any given time." [1]

A recent freedom of information request reveals that while the government originally intended to be able to deploy armed officers by late 2011, this timescale has now slipped to early 2012. A May 2011 report stated that around 100 officers would be given firearms training. [2] Cheshire Constabulary are providing BTP officers with training in the use of 9mm SIG Sauer pistols, LMT (Lewis Machine and Tool) carbines (machine guns), and "appropriate ammunition." It is unknown whether this will include hollow-point (otherwise known as 'dum-dum') bullets that have been used to lethal effect by the Metropolitan Police on more than one occasion. Both Jean Charles de Menezes and Mark Duggan were killed by officers equipped with the controversial ammunition. [3]

The BTP's armed unit will consist of "a core team of officers supported by a reserve of trained officers. The core team will combine armed patrol duties with their usual duties." Despite assurances in Hammond's original statement that armed units will only be deployed "according to operational need" and that "it will not be a daily event to see armed officers at stations," the BTP anticipates that officers "are likely to be on armed patrol a good deal of their time," mainly at London's busiest stations, although they will not have a permanent presence at any particular location.

The need for and likely effectiveness of armed BTP officers is questionable to say the least. The program is estimated to cost approximately £1.5 million, with annual operating costs of £300,000. Worryingly, the BTP has been unable to provide information on how often it has needed to call upon armed units of regional constabularies. As one commenter remarked in June, there are to be "more armed police, and at more expense, but not in respect of any specific threat or for any apparent operational need." [4] Despite this, at the beginning of next year travellers upon Britain's trains are likely to encounter armed police far more often than they may wish.

[1] Department for Transport, 'Provision of armed capability for the British Transport Police', 24 May 2011
[2] David Millward, 'British Transport Police to be armed', The Daily Telegraph, 19 May 2011
[3] Sandra Lavilla, 'Met police to use hollow point bullets that killed Jean Charles de Menezes', The Guardian, 11 May 2011
[4] David Allen Green, 'Why are we arming the British Transport Police?', New Statesman, 3 June 2011

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